Each week, BRSN sits down for a Q & A session with...
Cassandra Poudrier ’16, On A Lifetime Of Hockey
There is a common trope in portrayals and depictions of Canadians that they learn to skate when they learn to walk, and for Cassandra Poudrier ’16, that isn’t too far from the truth. Poudrier grew up in the small town of Mont-Laurier, Quebec, a municipality of just around 14,000 people in the northwest of Quebec. She, like many hockey players of her skill level, learned to play as a toddler. Unfortunately for many women at this time, though, women’s hockey was not nearly as established as it is today (And even today, it’s still in its infancy). The only league that existed as of 1992 was the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League, and no formal professional women’s hockey league existed in Canada until 2007.
For Poudrier’s parents, this, as well as living up to the expectations of a father who played the sport, was certainly a turn-off. When she asked her parents if she could play, around the age of two (!), she was redirected elsewhere. “When I was two,” she said, “there were always little hockey sticks laying around and I just wanted to play. So, I asked my parents all the time to play hockey, and my mom wouldn’t let me because there would be really high expectations, especially because I was a girl and back in 1994, women’s hockey was just starting. So, my parents made me try every sport possible that we could have in our town: figure skating, karate, swimming. They [also] made me try ballet and I literally stood there and cried.”
But after two years of fits and starts in sports she clearly didn’t like, her parents gave her a stick, and she wouldn’t put it down for 19 years. “By the time I was four, we moved to a town next door that was a little smaller where people didn’t know about my family playing hockey. So one day, they said, ‘Alright, we’ll let you try it.’ I was four at the time when I started playing, and I’ve been playing ever since,” she said of her earliest playing days. Her parents quickly came around once they realized how good she really was, and Poudrier went on to say, “My mom is my biggest fan now, my dad coached me through minor hockey. Although my mom was scared, it was good growing up in a small town because I went to school with the boys, did every activity with the boys, so I was like their little sister. It really helped to be able to play with them until I was sixteen.”
From there on, she was hooked. She started playing in a youth hockey league in Mont-Laurier that consisted of weekday practices and weekend games, and then she quickly moved on to boy’s travel teams. Once again, though, ambivalence was present. Poudrier’s mother was absolutely concerned with how she would be treated as a girl on a boy’s team, but she flourished, and played with the team for six years before playing for a girl’s travel league.
At the age of sixteen, Poudrier, her sister, and her mother moved to Montreal so that she and her sister, Mireille, could compete–Mireille was a figure skater at the time–and her father commuted on weekends to see them play. By this point, universities were already recruiting heavily. “I started playing for my provincial team–Team Quebec–when I was twelve, [and so] you start going to national championships, and that’s where all the universities are [scouting] at. I got my first letter at fourteen. Because of the different ages of the education system in Quebec, they started recruiting me really young,” she said of the process.
By this point, she had already joined the under-eighteen national team, and it was putting her on the map. She played fifteen games with the national team, tallying ten points and a World Championship in 2012. Universities were waiting with bated breath to see where she would commit to, and she ultimately chose Cornell.
“I had a bunch of demands–Ivies were approaching me, and a lot other schools offering full scholarships–so it was kind of a hard decision, but I definitely wanted to prioritize my education,” Poudrier said of her selection. “My parents told me that if I was going to go to the U.S., they wanted me to go and get an education. As much as hockey is important, once I’m done playing hockey I need to have something else I’m able to do. Cornell had a great education and a good hockey program, and I think the decision was simple at that time, once I visited.”
The rest was history. She joined the Cornell women’s hockey in the fall of 2012, with instant results. That year she was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Rookie Team, and the team won both the Ivy League and the ECAC, and they advanced to the NCAA Tournament (They were eliminated in the first round by Mercyhurst). During her sophomore year she was named as an Ivy League Honorable Mention , and put on the 3rd Team All-ECAC Hockey team. The team, once again, was eliminated by Mercyhurst in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Last season they fell back a step by losing to Harvard in the ECAC Championship round, but she progressed even further as an individual player, as she was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Tournament Team.
Reflecting on her time at Cornell, she is well aware of the growth she made as a player and as a person. She opined, “You start as a freshman, and you feel like you know everything. You feel like you’re ready to play immediately. But now that I take a step back and look, I can see how much I’ve learned in my four years here. I’ve learned so much, not only about hockey, but also myself and how to be a competitor, and how to really battle through everything.”
What she also values greatly from her Cornell experience is the guidance she received from older players, some of them arguably the best in the world. In particular, she was especially close with Brianne Jenner ’15, who graduated this past spring to play for the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno. “She was a great captain and great leader,” Poudrier said of Jenner. “Always set those high standards–that’s what I learned from her.”
This year, Poudrier has a new team, and a final season before she heads into the real-world. In regards to her team, she expressed both excitement, as well as the obvious concern, around having to replace the front line of scorers (Brianne Jenner, Jillian Saulnier, and Emily Fulton). “This year we’re having a slower start like we had last year, but I think that challenge of really wanting to get better is fun. It’s fun when you’re always winning, but it’s fun to have the challenge,” she said.
She then, though, offered some hope. “I think the thing that’s interesting about this year is that we don’t have that one player that can score all of the goals we need. I think that because of that it allows a lot of people to step up. To know that we can’t rely on one person is good as well because the whole team has to give as much as they can and play their hardest. Our biggest strength is how hard we can work and how hard we can battle, and I think every time we’ve done that we’ve been successful. Yes, we’re going to lose some games, but how can we build on that?” As for her role on the team, she sees herself as a lead-by-example type. “It’s one thing to say things,” she said, “but are you going to do it on the ice? For me, it’s holding myself accountable to be the best I can be.”
On June 20, 2015, the new National Women’s Hockey League, the first paid women’s league, had its first draft, and the 18th overall pick (by the Connecticut Whale) was Cassandra Poudrier. Prior to the day she was actually unaware of the draft herself, but she was incredibly honored by the result. “I never talked to them,” she said of the NWHL, “because you’re not allowed as I’m still in the NCAA, and all of the information they got was online and from the University, so I never really talked to them. One day I got an email saying, ‘You got drafted’ and it was all over social media. I never entered any draft so it was nice that they wanted me there.”
More important than anything, though, is that the NWHL gives her yet another post-grad option. “I don’t know what my plans are next, but at least I know I have the option to play, or to return to the CWHL in Canada,” she said. Whether she plays for the NWHL, CWHL, or goes on to another career entirely, success will likely follow. More likely than not, though, that future will contain a hockey stick.